V Smiley to open unique restaurant in Vergennes
VERGENNES — Sometime this fall the latest addition to the Vergennes culinary scene should arrive in the Kennedy Brothers building on North Main Street — after a long journey that began near Seattle eight years ago, or arguably even earlier on a 150-acre farm on New Haven’s River Road.
The restaurant will be Minifactory, and its kitchen will produce not only restaurant food, but also the honey-based jams, marmalades, conserves and more created by V Smiley Preserves.
The 3,400-square-foot space had until the pandemic served as Shacksbury Cider’s tasting room. Shacksbury plans to move up one level in the north end of the Kennedy Brothers complex and re-open its tasting room next spring. It will sublet the first floor to Minifactory.
New Haven native V Smiley, 36, created the company that bears her name on Whidbey Island, Wash., in 2013. She was captivated by making preserves while cooking in Los Angeles and then Seattle, where she headed after college in Maryland.
“Preserves were always sitting there for me. They were a big part of my childhood,” Smiley said.
In Los Angeles, Smiley “worked in a restaurant that really celebrated preserves,” and pointed out, “if you’re cooking seasonally you’re often doing some preserving as a way to extend it deeper into your menu.”
She was drawn both to preserving and the restaurant culture of “furthering yourself as a cook.”
“I found myself naturally gravitating toward it,” Smiley said. “Anything we were cooking at the restaurant I would go home and try to perfect it.”
After moving to Seattle she honed her preserving techniques when she came across the work of preserving expert Rachel Saunders, author of “Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.”
“I opened up her book, and I was like, ‘Here are all the answers to all the questions I’ve been having,’” Smiley said. “I just basically cooked my way through that book, and I adapted everything for honey, because I don’t eat sugar. And that turned out to be my year-and-a-half of development that turned into V Smiley Preserves.”
Other things had also happened by then. She was cooking at a restaurant again, one that supported her venture, which became a successful business.
“Things were going great. I was in the farmers’ markets,” she said.
And even before then, back in 2008 on Whidbey Island, she met Amy, the woman and Montana native who became her life partner, and who shares with Smiley a love for specialty farming.
BACK TO HER ROOTS
They ultimately decided they wanted a more rural existence than Seattle. In 2012, one possibility opened up.
Backstory: Smiley’s father, Jerry, never accepted her self-described queer identity, and they remained estranged, although Smiley stayed close to her mother, Susan. She calls her parents “back-to-the landers” who moved to Vermont in the ’60s.
In 2012, Smiley and Amy attended two services in Vermont.
“Shortly before my father passed away, my brother got married, and we came back, and that was really incredible. And we came back, of course, for the memorial, and that was a beautiful event as well,” Smiley recalled. “And each time Amy was able to come with me, and we loved being here.”
Smiley said even when she founded V Smiley Preserves and it gained traction quickly in the Seattle area, she had one eye on Vermont, her mother, and the family farm — and eventually opening her own restaurant.
“I wanted to get back here sooner rather than later, because I knew to do what I wanted to do here was going to take a long time,” she said.
But the 2015 move back to Vermont meant rebuilding the business from scratch in a less-populous area with established competitors in the preserves sector, many of whom had already cornered niches in critical farmers’ markets.
“We got back to Vermont and kind of came to a screeching halt. There was no market here for my product,” Smiley said. “That was tough, very tough.”
She found her own niche by becoming one of the first in the preserve sector to market in 2-ounce jars, and finally cracked first the Shelburne and then the Burlington farmers’ markets. By 2018 V Smiley Preserves began to do better, and now she is making her products on Main Street in Bristol and storing them in a Rockydale building.
“Things really began to change for me when I got into the Burlington Farmers’ Market, and that took three years,” Smiley said.
Now Smiley feels ready to make a six-figure investment in creating Minifactory.
“You’ll see racks of fruit, and you’ll see a walk-in, and our kitchen will be open to be viewed. And there will be seating there for you to have biscuits and jam (and coffee), and we’ll be open on the weekends for dinner and brunch,” Smiley said, adding she plans to serve Thursdays through Sundays.
Dinners on the menu might include roasted half-chickens with potatoes and currants, and pesto meatballs with tomato jam. Brunches could offer items such as waffles with raspberry whipped cream, hearty yogurt bowls, and an extensive biscuit/preserve and egg menu with pickled fruits and vegetables; and salads.
Most ingredients will be locally sourced, and Amy will grow some items on River Road.
She hopes both her customers will be happy at Minifactory.
“There is nothing like getting someone dinner and creating that space for someone to feel relaxed and comfortable and take a break. And that’s what restaurants can do,” Smiley said.
As well as conventional funding for the Kennedy Brothers start-up, Smiley has also turned to a Kickstarter campaign that achieved its goal of $17,000 in only seven days, and by July 4 boasted $32,434 and 231 backers.
The crowd-fund pitch includes a video that offers not only her vision for the company, but also painful details, including her father’s rejection of Smiley when she came out, and she is grateful for the response.
“I took a pretty personal approach to the storytelling. I wanted to be pretty honest about what motivates me,” Smiley said.
“That piece of land I grew up on is the most motivating factor, and wanting to re-landscape it and have it be a wonderful place to be, and stay in a relationship with my mom, and just to have things work out.”
Reflecting, Smiley pointed to a central reason she wanted to return to her 150-acre home with her mother, who lives nearby, and partner.
“It also allows me to stay in touch with my parents and their most idealistic and well-intentioned parts of their parenting,” Smiley said. “It’s a way of being in touch with their love.”
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